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Too much has been squandered on logo fight

By Staff | Apr 22, 2011

Those who supported legislation to force the University of North Dakota to keep the Fighting Sioux logo should not have been surprised when the NCAA refused to change its position just because the state Legislature passed a law mandating continuance of the logo.

The NCAA had determined that the logo was abusive.The legislation failed to address this issue. Instead, it sought to break a 2007 NCAA-UND agreement, negotiated by Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, requiring UND to get the approval of the two Sioux tribes. The law did not change the alleged abusiveness claimed by the NCAA.

The Standing Rock Sioux had not approved the logo, meaning the conditions for continued use were not met.The depth of support or opposition on Standing Rock has not been measured so NCAA could not join the Legislature in assuming that strong support on that Reservation was tantamount to approval.

The issue of the constitutionality of the logo law has not been resolved.At some point, a party with standing may successfully attack the law and have it ruled unconstitutional in the courts. That would leave NCAA red-faced for reversing itself on the basis of a dubious piece of legislation.

The tribal sovereignty issue has not been considered in the public discussion but it could become a relevant in the future. Even though Spirit Lake has given approval to continued use of the logo, future councils may decide otherwise.

Politics on the reservations is quite similar to politics off the reservations. Policies change with administrations. A future Spirit Lake council could decide to disregard any contract relating to the logo. That would put the NCAA-UND agreement in limbo.

Perhaps logo supporters would insist that a deal is a deal but history would not be kind to such an argument. Our track record for honoring agreements with Indian nations has not been good, especially with the Sioux, e.g., the Treaty of Laramie and the Black Hills gold rush.

Since tribes have a quasi-sovereign status, it is highly unlikely that the tribes could be forced to live with an agreement that they wished to abrogate. Jurisdiction of the issue would very likely rest in the federal courts. Needless to say, it would be a complicated legal morass.

Some of the logo supporters are downplaying the NCAA reaffirmation of principles by claiming the real objection was the proposal to conduct new negotiations in an open meeting.This line of reasoning is whistling in the dark. Reaffirmation of the principles doesn’t relate very well to the squareness of the negotiating table.

Personally, I love the Fighting Sioux logo. UND will never get a better one. And I do not agree with the NCAA that it is abusive. But that is not for me to judge because I am not a Native-American. Not being the patient, I cannot say where it hurts.

I do know one thing. It is time to put this issue to rest. We have squandered too much time, money and reputation on this fruitless fight with forces beyond our control.

Omdahl is a UND professor emeritus in political science and a former lieutenant governor of North Dakota.

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